EA Sports has long been at the fore of innovation in their video games — from including 12 women’s national teams, including the United States, in FIFA 16, to now bringing the WNBA in NBA Live 18. Every WNBA team will appear in the newest version of the game, the first time WNBA teams and players will ever be playable in a video game. According to sources, the former powerhouse of basketball video games has been working on adding the WNBA to NBA Live 18 for at least a year.
The addition of the NBA’s partner league is a smart business decision for the game franchise, as they’ve struggled the entire decade with the emergence in popularity of the competing NBA 2K franchise. More women are playing video games and becoming known for their basketball abilities as the WNBA itself increases in popularity. Combining the two was a move that has been long overdue.
When the news broke, with EA Sports releasing a trailer less than a minute, there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the league’s addition form the players themselves, NBA players, notable collegiate athletes and of course the fans.
“Well, I heard my teammates talking about it walking towards the bus after shootaround, and they showed me the video,” Brittany Sykes of the Atlanta Dream told The Step Back. “I became so excited that I didn’t know what to say. It’s a huge step for women’s basketball and to see the feedback on social media is amazing. The first thing I thought about was ‘I hope they used my fro as my hairstyle.”
Sykes, a collector of both NBA Live and NBA 2K as a kid growing up, intends on buying NBA Live 18 and suggested the idea of possibly getting three copies and giving away two.
“It’s great for the game in women’s basketball,” said Skyes.
The buzz around the game was significant after the release of the trailer, and just in time with the demo being released exclusively on Playstation 4 and Xbox One on August 11.
The gaming industry itself continues to grow with an increased impact on what kids do and talk about. For instance, Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox credited playing NBA 2K growing up as a tool in him becoming a better basketball. Who knows, maybe a few years from now we’ll hear about a future WNBA player becoming influenced from the leagues addition to the video game franchise?
Alex Jones, a rookie for the Minnesota Lynx, relayed she’s “super excited” about the game and found out via social media. Being apart of the game herself was simply described as being “super cool and fun.”
“It’s really cool,” Atlanta Dream center Imani Boyette told The Step Back. “It’s a chance to further introduce our game to new fans. It just shows that we’re moving in the right direction and our game is continually growing.”
Boyette is confident her husband, Oakland Raiders rookie defensive tackle, Paul Boyette Jr., will be purchasing the game. Boyette herself can be seen in the trailer as it concludes.
Dallas Wings forward Glory Johnson “was so excited” when she heard about the league’s introduction to the virtual world. Johnson said she heard talks and discussions about the possibility for awhile.
“The first time I saw something about the game was on Instagram,” Johnson told The Step Back. “I actually saw the little clip of the game. That was amazing. I thought it was awesome. I thought it was fun to see other people that I played with in video game form. So, that was pretty awesome.”
Johnson’s more of a laid-back gamer with an interest in playing Mario Party, in comparison to the popular first-person shooters such as Call of Duty and Halo. Despite the limited interest in some games, she sees the opportunity to play NBA Live as herself and possibly scout opponents.
“I don’t really play sports games,” said Johnson. “But, now that this is out there it’s really interesting. It’ll be me playing because I want to know how it is trying to learn how to play as other players and seeing what their strengths are on the game. I know the players scouting report wise, so when I play them in the game is it going to be the same thing? Is this a new form of scouting?”
Video games have become more sophisticated where they’re able to track how players play, replicating tendencies and motions. With the modern day emphasis on analytics, it will be interesting to see how close the characters play to their real-life counterparts. It’ll show the work EA Sports put into the game and what can be improved upon for late iterations.
How EA nurtures and develops the addition of the women characters is important because the representation matters, and this is a product that could influence more young girls and women, in addition to promoting the WNBA. It’s a big move and a step in the right direction for inclusion and removing barriers between between men’s and women’s sports.
“This is huge,” said Johnson. “For me, I didn’t actually think this was going to happen. There’s a lot of talk about things that could happen in the WNBA that would bring it exposure. I think this is something that is beyond that. It’s more than having an extra two or three games on ESPN every once in awhile. This is a big deal. This is something we’re going to have now and keep it for later. DJ [her agent] was talking about how my kids can play this game way, way down the line and say ‘that’s my mom.’ It’s a huge deal. It’s a big deal. Like I said, I didn’t believe it was actually going to happen and it did.”
Johnson is eager to play the game and see how close her character will be to herself as a real-life basketball player — from her rebounding and dunking ability, to what her rating will be. Both Johnson, a two-time All-Star, and her agent are aiming for at least an 88. All those questions will be answered during the demo on August 11, or when the game is released in September.
Either way, EA Sports and the WNBA are getting what they want. EA becomes trendy again and a step ahead of NBA 2K, while attracting a new audience. The WNBA gains more exposure in a premier video game, breaking another barrier. It’s a win-win for both sides.